SAN FRANCISCO - As the US steps back from overseeing the group entrusted to essentially run the Internet, states and corporations are grabbing for the reins.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has gone from being behind the scenes tending to the task of managing website addresses to being centre stage in a play for power on the Internet.
"Governments want to exert control over the sweeping trans-national power of the Internet that is effecting their policies, politics, social fabric and/or their economic conditions," ICANN chief executive Fadi Chehade told AFP just days before the group gathers in Los Angeles beginning Sunday to tackle an array of hot issues.
"The other groups are large corporations concerned about security issues," he continued while discussing forces striving for influence over the organisation.
"Therefore, they are stepping in with force to figure out how to reduce potential harm to customers and to their businesses."
Governance of the Internet will be a high-profile topic at the ICANN 51 meeting that will continue through October 16 in Los Angeles.
The World Economic Forum recently unveiled a project aimed at connecting governments, businesses, academia, technicians and civil society worldwide to brainstorm the best ways to govern the Internet.
WEF launched its NETmundial Initiative in a bid to build on the outcome of a large conference in Brazil in April that called for a transparent, multi-stakeholder approach to running the Web.
"Anyone who wants to come in and build a coalition of stakeholders and address issues, more power to them," Chehade said of the crowd-sourcing move.
"The way we put it in ICANN is getting the free will of the people to bottom-up coalesce, work together and come up with solutions."
Participants at the conference in Brazil balked at a push by some countries, including China and Russia, for governments to move into a leading role in overseeing the Internet, amid fears of the impact this could have on the unity of the Web and on online dissent and freedom of expression.
Chehade told AFP that the WEF will be involved in a more action-oriented initiative to be announced shortly.
"We don't need more dialogue, we need more solutions," Chehade said.